The Need for Body-Worn Cameras and Their Effects on the Police and the Public

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The Need for Body-Worn Cameras and Their Effects on the Police and the Public

Mistrust of Police Among Public

When conflicts arise during police encounters, police officers are expected to behave professionally by following the given protocol. With the rise of police brutality in different countries, there is mistrust among the public regarding police actions during conflicts. Even daily interactions between citizens and police bodies, even in local settings, has also contributed to general distrust. For example, between 2010 and 2014, more than 65% of the participants (in America) in the National Survey of Victimization and Perception on Public Security reported a level of little to no confidence in the municipal and transit police. Although this is a more common phenomenon in America, these sentiments should be prevented from rising in Asian societies such as Singapore. It is necessary to introduce monitoring and accountability mechanisms to solve the abuse of power of police bodies at the local level and improve citizen confidence, to allow for effective law enforcement.

This is when body-worn cameras come into the picture. Body-worn cameras are a simple but effective tool, which encourage both police officers and citizens to follow protocol, as the cameras hold them accountable. Camera footage also allows reviewing of the encounter, making it easier to solve the issue as it counters dishonest allegations or reports, or ambiguity. Body-worn cameras also act as a tool for strengthening the police system overall. By recorded footage can be used for future learning, by understanding what was done right or what could have been better.

The use of video recordings through body-worn cameras not only forces police officers to be accountable, but it also provides them with a useful tool to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Its implementation could help repair citizen trust and community ties with local authorities.

Body-worn cameras have been successfully implemented in many countries as a response to issues of trust, proliferation of corruption and abuse of authority among police forces. In the United States, for example, a study conducted by the Police Executive Investigation Forum (a branch of investigation of the Department of Justice) shows that the use of body-worn cameras improved transparency and accountability in cases of citizen complaints, as well as identifying and correcting internal affairs. Moreover, two impact assessments, in Mesa, Arizona, and another in Rialto, California, concluded that the implementation of video recordings, through body-worn cameras, reduced the number of citizen complaints by 75 and 60 percent respectively.

Generally, statistical evidence shows that the implementation of such cameras result in a positive effect: the social behavior of an individual improves when he feels observed. In this sense, citizens not only perceive the activities of police forces better, but police officers as well report more positive interactions with citizens after the implementation of body-worn cameras.

However, it would be a serious and costly mistake to import successful security technologies without establishing an adequate institutional framework, nor developing the right infrastructure for its implementation. For the body-worn cameras to produce measurable and positive results, legislators, police chiefs and citizens must consider the recommendations and lessons learnt from other countries that have implemented such programs.

Before implementing the body-worn cameras, we must take into account the following considerations:

  • Police officers should be trained on body-worn camera management based on the legal framework and police action manuals.
  • When the camera should be activated. For example, recording using the cameras would be useful during traffic violations, arrests, inspections, interrogations, and persecutions. However, the citizens have the right to know when it will be recorded and can demand their right to privacy in sensitive situations.
  • Police officers should be aware of when and how the recordings will be audited
  • Create a technical team that has clear protocol when disseminating information, not only to avoid compromising security strategies but also to ensure secured access to information.
  • Expand local storage capacities, either by outsourcing to third-party servers or by investing in digital storage infrastructure.
  • Take cyber-security measures and use forensic methods that identify the truthfulness or manipulation in video recordings.
  • Establish criteria for co-financing and coordination between municipal, state and federal authorities to ensure the financial and operational sustainability of video recordings.

When implemented with the correct measures in place, body-worn cameras serve as a useful tool for policemen.

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